At the beginning of the season, Michigan water polo coach Matt Anderson had one goal for the squad: be the best in the East.
And on Sunday, in a picture-perfect old-school matchup, the 12th-ranked Wolverines will get the chance to prove they’re exactly that.
Michigan is riding an 11-game winning streak into this weekend against No. 15 Indiana, and Anderson expects that momentum to give the Wolverines a boost.
“Having won all those games, we’re in a better frame of mind,” he said. “Our aches don’t hurt as much, we’re shooting better, and we’re just on right now.”
Even though the teams are foes in the CWPA Western Division instead of the Big Ten, senior Michelle Keeley said the Wolverines see the matchup as if it were a Big Ten Championship.
“In rivalry games like this, the Michigan tradition just gets me pumped up,” sophomore Leah Robertson said. “We get a chance to show that we’re the leaders and best.”
Robertson has established herself as a leader on the squad, stealing 66 balls this year, already the second-highest single-season total in program history.
If Michigan is going to stop Indiana this weekend, defense will be the difference. In nine of their last 10 games, the Wolverines have held their opponents to single-digit scores, so it’s clear that the Wolverine defense is clicking at just the right time.
“Anyone can play offense,” Anderson said. “It’s playing hard-nosed defense that wins the game.”
But the offense has also been nothing short of spectacular. The Wolverines scored 96 goals in just five games last weekend at the CWPA League Games in Erie, Pa.
Michigan’s real challenge will be to catch the Hoosiers off guard. Indiana has already seen the Wolverines play at both the Michigan Kick-Off and the Elite Six Tournament this season.
“It’s all about ball control this weekend,” Anderson said. “They know what’s coming, so we have to do our best not to turn the ball over.”
Anderson is no stranger to the Hoosiers style either. While serving as an Indiana assistant coach in 2001, he helped the Hoosiers to a school-record No. 14 ranking.
“I’m at Michigan, and they are Indiana,” Anderson said. “That’s all that matters to me now in this rivalry.”
For the Wolverines, anything less than an undefeated record in the East would be a disappointment.
“This is why I came to Michigan, for games like this,” Keeley said, “There aren’t many rivalries like this in women’s college sports.”
And with the title of “The Best in the East” on the line, there won’t be many water polo matches as hard-fought as the one on Sunday.
Indiana at Michigan
Matchup: Indiana 9-7; Michigan 17-9
When: Sunday, Noon.
here: Canham Natatorium